Rich Americans are stealing billions of dollars from average wage earners through creative tax-dodging scams involving idyllic Caribbean islands, Byzantine accounting ploys and the rarefied world of high art, experts claim.
The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimates tax cheats cost the federal government an estimated $11 billion to $15 billion a year.
If the cheats paid up for just one year, it would nearly cover the $18.3 billion Congress recently devoted to rebuild Iraq.
Instead, the rest of the taxpayers will carry that burden.
"The IRS always seems to be catching yesterday's hot new fraud, and today there are five or six to take its place," said Bill Allison of the Center for Public Integrity and co-author of The Cheating of America, a study of tax evasion by "the superrich."
The Senate subcommittee on investigations recently found that KPMG ignored warnings from its own staff that the shelters were bogus and concocted legal opinions to the contrary.
"I think everybody here knew what they were doing was wrong," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the subcommittee's chairman.
The committee reported that KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, collected fees of $124 million from 1997 through 2001 on shelter plans — saving clients $1.4 billion in taxes.
The clients included Maurice Marciano, co-chairman of Guess; Dale Earnhardt, the late race car driver; and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., according to documents filed an IRS lawsuit against KPMG.
Of course, somewhere it must be noted that "saving" KPMG clients $1.4 billion in taxes is also known as "cheating" honest taxpayers of $1.4 billion in taxes.
Another way of looking at it: For every $1 KPMG collected for its "bogus" shelters for Frist and Co., an extra $11 was taken from your pocket in the form of taxes deflected to the middle class.
Here's a peek at Frist performing for the other vast right-wing conspirators in the boardroom of anti-tax Gollum Grover Norquist. (This astonishing article on Norquist is a must-read.)